The Phoenix Suns And Their Masterful Floor General
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
There was no need to send Chris Paul a gift this Thursday, as he turned 36 years young and celebrated another trip around the sun.
For the Phoenix Suns’ evergreen point guard has all he could possibly wish for this year, with the potential for more goodies on the way as the NBA postseason quickly approaches.
Paul received no shortage of well-wishes from his friends around the league as his age ticked up another number, led by a sentimental online tribute featuring a throwback photo from his old pal LeBron James.
Yet surely nothing – no present, no party, no cake – could make him feel happier than the simple reality of how he’s playing, and what he’s doing, at what is supposed to be an advanced point of his career.
"I know who I am," Paul told reporters. "When I got here and got a chance to see the culture they had already built, it’s special, man. For me, being away from my family, teams like this, they become your family."
Warm words there – and conventional logic suggested it wasn’t supposed to go quite like this. The Philadelphia 76ers tried to trade for Paul before the start of the season, seeing him as a positive, supplemental piece to a team emphatically fronted by Joel Embiid.
The Suns, it was widely believed, saw great value in his experience and professionalism, believing he would be the ideal role model to help bring the best out of rising star Devin Booker and the squad’s array of young talent, including Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.
He’s done that, plus far, far more.
With a handful of games left in the NBA regular season, Paul is gathering growing support in the discussions of who should receive the MVP award, an accolade that will likely fall to Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic.
"It is all (about) a nice little tapestry who adds the most value," FS1’s Nick Wright said on "First Things First." "The Phoenix Suns last year, before the bubble, were so bad they went undefeated in the bubble and didn’t make the play-in. They switched out Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre for Chris Paul and now they have the (second) best record in the entire NBA.
"Chris Paul, his entire career, has affected winning. No one has added more value to their team this year than Chris Paul. He will not win the MVP. He should win the MVP."
Phoenix started hot and just kept on rolling this season, now looking forward to ending a drought of 10 straight playoff misses, which included four dead-last Western Conference finishes. The regular season wraps up in a week, with the Suns just a single game behind the first-place Utah Jazz. Paul is averaging 16.2 points and 8.8 assists, while serving as a masterful floor general.
Phoenix was never going to be the biggest story in the West, that role automatically assigned to whatever is going on with the Los Angeles Lakers. Numerous other plotlines, like Steph Curry’s resurgent season, the Jazz’s dominance, Jokic’s excellence, the Clippers’ irreverence and Luka Doncic’s technical foul naughtiness all gaining more attention.
This brings us here, and the somewhat sudden realization that the 47-19 Suns have been quietly spectacular, and that Paul has been the guiding light behind it.
"He’s just leading guys in all ways that we need to be led," Suns guard Jevon Carter said. "When it comes to the fourth quarter and we need a basket, when we need a play, he is calling it. He's running it. Everybody else just feeds off that. We just do our job well around him, the game comes easy."
We are wired to expect the biggest names and teams to come through at playoff time, so much so that the Suns have the seventh-best odds – listed +1500 with FOX Bet – to win it all. However, head coach Monty Williams believes Paul’s impact will be felt even more strongly once elimination time comes.
"He just seems to get stronger as the game progresses," Williams said. "His mentality doesn’t change. There’s no nerves. There is no panic in him. He’s been there so many times. Our guys trust him."
The play-in tournament has added a lot of interest to the closing weeks and the Suns look likely to get a fascinating matchup, especially if they remain in their current No. 2 position.
Possibilities abound, but there is a real one that they could face the Lakers in the opening round of the playoffs. No one wants to come up against James and company in the first round, but the Lakers are wounded, with back spasms for Anthony Davis the latest in a litany of complaints.
Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks would be another potential opponent, or the Warriors, or the Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard’s steady hand. Any of those would pose an uphill task for the Suns, their regular-season excellence notwithstanding.
Yet perhaps we are looking at this all wrong. Paul has made it a point to try to teach his young group not to fear anyone, and that mindset seems to have rubbed off on Booker, who has put together a breakthrough campaign.
Behind Paul, the Suns are playing with intensity, yet an unmistakable sense of fun. They don’t seem worried about any opponent. With a relaxed veteran leader calling the shots and defying the years, maybe everyone else should be worried about them.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.